China blasts Supreme Court ruling on Edca
CANBERRA—The Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) between the Philippines and the United States has set the stage for the negotiation for expanded US military presence in the Philippines—which is seen as a tough response to China’s occupation of disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea.
In a press briefing, the Supreme Court’s Public Information Office explained that the Court, ruling 10-4, sees the Edca not as a treaty but as an executive agreement that “merely aims to implement” already existing treaties ratified by the Senate, namely, the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty and the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“As it is, the Edca is not constitutionally infirm,” declared the Court. “Äs an executive agreement, it remains consistent with existing laws and treaties that it purports to implement.” The constitutionality of Edca, an issue of strategic importance to Philippine-American security, has finally been upheld by the Supreme Court two years after it was signed in 2014. The high court’s ruling is seen to have the effect of keeping the defense pact from being politicized in the Senate, which it would have been if it had been submitted to the Senate for ratification.
In effect, the Court said it disagreed with the Senate Resolution of Nov. 10, 2015, which had insisted that the Edca must be submitted to the Senate as a treaty for concurrence of two-thirds of its members. In ruling that the Edca was not a treaty, the Court noted that it was “not the instrument” that allowed US troops or facilities to enter the country; it was the VFA in 1999.
The administration welcomed and capitalized on the Court’s ruling, arguing that it would further “strengthen the strategic partnership” between the two allies. It maintained that the United States would greatly help in the modernization program of the military. President Aquino himself has said the country “definitely needs” the Edca.
Philippine and US officials welcomed the ruling. The Department of Foreign Affairs said that with the ruling, the two governments can now go ahead in “finalizing the arrangements for its full implementation.”
Indeed, within hours of the Court’s decision, top diplomats and the defense departments of both countries started talks in Washington, on allowing US troops, warships and planes to use local military camps for mutual security against Beijing’s perceived land-grabbing of territories in the West Philippine Sea, territories which are also claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, among other countries.
The talks in Washington drew a warning from China, which said that the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision would only escalate tensions in the region over the disputed territories and “could push the situation to the brink of war.”
On the other hand, the official Chinese Xinhua News agency blasted the Supreme Court, calling it a “stupid” move. It warned of “dire consequences that would only escalate tensions and undermine peace and stability in the region.”
The Xinhua editorial said that the Philippines appears to be now turning to Uncle Sam to back its ambition to counter China. Media reports said that the high court’s ruling declaring the Edca constitutional bolsters US efforts to reassert its presence in Asia and dovetails with the Philippines’ desire for American help in countering China’s maritime claims in the West Philippine Sea.
It appears that Chinese concerns have been fueled by the prospects of an enhanced Philippine military capacity to resist Chinese territorial encroachments in disputed islets in the West Philippine Sea. The Chinese seem to dread the prospects of a stronger Philippine-US security partnership as a far more serious obstacle to their expansionist ambitions in disputed territories more than the Philippines’ diplomatic initiatives seeking UN arbitral interventions to resolve the disputes.
What’s on the cards in the Washington talks that have aroused China’s furious blast? According to Philippine military sources, Manila has offered eight bases where US forces may build facilities to store equipment and supplies under the Edca. Five military airfields, two naval bases and a training camp were reportedly offered to the United States.
An American submarine arrived at Subic Bay last week, hours before the Supreme Court ruling. This port visit was clearly a show of force, signaling that the United States is serious in providing its allies in the Asia-Pacific with military muscle to stand up to Chinese maritime penetrations, and to prevent the West Philippine Sea from becoming a Chinese lake, by default.
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